Joy Holland—artist, poet, scholar, actor, fashion designer, neighborhood activist—died peacefully in her sleep April 3. She always declined to disclose her age, but she was a grandmother and great-grandmother.
“Her spirit was so beautiful and inspirational. She was very spiritual,” her daughter Ava Coaxum said.
Tajmal Payne, Holland’s son, said he was inspired by her artistry. “We would go driftwood hunting at the Bay or the ocean,” he said. His mother would turn the objects brought home into candleholders or frames in which she would place her drawings.
Born and raised in Berkeley, Holland took care of her parents as they aged. She responded to the difficulty of that task through activism—she set up a support group for care-givers at the Over 60 Clinic, Coaxum said.
“She always gave to others.” That is the thread that runs through all her varied activities, Coaxum said.
Holland grew up in the family home where she died, across the street from the YMCA, where her parents founded the New Light Senior Center in 1968. The South Berkeley YMCA was a refuge for people of African descent in the still-segregated Berkeley of the time, said Shirley Brower, director of the South branch YMCA, noting that the Holland family brought social clubs, movies and celebrations of black history to the YMCA.
“Joy was a beautiful community leader,” Brower said.
Holland continued to bring her energy and artistry to the YMCA and had told Brower of her plan—the last time she saw her—to create a big Easter bunny for the holiday.
Many people knew Holland through her B-TV show JoyTime, in which she showcased local artists, black history and more.
Councilmember Max Anderson recalls Holland’s activism around the move of the original Berkeley Bowl to its present site. “She helped resist the McFrugal’s at the site,” he said. “She cared so much about us having a nutritional source of food.”
Noting that Holland served on a number of city commissions including the Civic Arts Commission and the Human Welfare Commission, Councilmember Kriss Worthington said that even after talking to Holland about large problems, “when you finished talking to her, you would feel uplifted, inspired.”
Holland included this poem—reproduced in part—in a booklet she wrote on the history of the New Light Senior Center.
Life is a Message of Celebration
Every day is a lesson
Satin dust and Velvet dreams
Like the lyrics of poetry
Surrounded by memories
Of other folks’ Spirit
That gently touch those left
In addition to her daughter and son, Holland is survived by six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. She was preceded in death by her daughter Barbara Payne and parents Lena and Kemper Holland.
Services are at 11 a.m. at the McGee Avenue Baptist Church, 1640 Stuart St.